March 6, 2013: The U.S. recently sent to American ISPs (Internet Service Providers) a list of Internet addresses that were the source of recent hacker attacks on American corporate and government networks that resulted in huge quantities of data being stolen. Lists like this make it easier for ISPs to protect their customers from known hacker organizations. The recently sent list deliberately left out the fact that nearly all these addresses were located in China. More precisely, most of these addresses were in the same neighborhood as the Chinese Cyber War organization. Anyone with minimal knowledge of the Internet could have found out exactly where those addresses were located. But the American government does not yet want to call out China on over a decade of Internet based espionage against the United States and its allies. Some of those allies have been less reticent.
American leaders apparently fear that by going on the record that China is the source of a huge espionage campaign there will be enormous political pressure to do something about it. The fact of the matter is that there is little you can do about it other than try to improve Internet defenses (an endless and increasingly expensive task) and talk about retaliation. But how do you retaliate? It’s historically rare for major powers to go to war just over espionage. As China points out, this Internet espionage goes both ways. But the West has a lot more to steal, compared to China, and that works to China’s advantage. China believes that the U.S. will not risk conventional combat in an effort to shut down China’s Internet hacking campaign. So far that assessment has been correct.